GOLF: Jon Swift
THERE is something very refreshing in this harsh and materialistic world about the way Ernie Els approaches the business of professional golf. Evidences of this is his wavering about taking up the 10-year exemption his historic win in the US Open earned him earlier this year. In this apparent indecision, Els has highlighted one of the biggest dilemmas in world golf.
“I want to be a world-class player,” he says, “and under the present set-up on the US Tour, you have to play a minimum of 15 tournaments to keep your card.”
It was a similar consideration — albeit approached from a different angle — which led Seve Ballesteros to spurn the US Tour. Ballesteros, hampered by back trouble and not a lover of the intensive and frenetic travel playing in the States entails, put it in perspective when he said: “I am a European player.”
Perhaps Els is more; not restricted to one continent, one tour. He has certainly showed his winning form across the globe. For besides being the US champion, Els has a European card, is the winner of the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and a regular first place finisher on the local tour.
His sentiments about the rigours of the American tour are encapsulated in one telling phrase from the gangling 24-year- old superstar. “Playing the US Tour might not allow me the freedom to play elsewhere,” is the way he puts it.
Dale Hayes, a consistent winner in Europe, found similar problems playing in the US over a decade ago.
“It’s very lonely out there,” said Hayes after abandoning his American odyssey. “You travel, you book into your hotel, you eat, you practise, you sleep, you play, you eat, you sleep, you play, you travel again.”
For the gregarious and easy-going Els, that type of lifestyle can hold few real attractions. And he freely admits that money is not a driving force in his view of a life on the courses of the world.
It is also worth thinking about one other factor which has surely come into the reckoning of Els and his shrewd manager, Sam Feldman. As the US Open title holder, Els is assured of his pick of invitation spots in US events even if he turns down his tour card. He can pick his tournaments. And he has more than enough talent to win sufficient dollars to ensure that he earns a card again next year — even without the second major which will surely come his way.